The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), which is under the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced the move against the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) on Sept. 13. It was spearheaded by Sen. Richard "Dick" Blumenthal (D-CT) during a committee hearing held that day.
The hearing originally targeted the PIF's proposed deal with the PGA Tour golf entity and "related investments throughout the United States." Aside from golf, the sovereign wealth fund – often utilized as a lever of global influence by Saudi Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – is also the majority owner of the Newcastle United soccer club that plays in the English Premier League.
Senators were visibly agitated by the PIF's lack of compliance with voluntary requests for disclosure, which they consider as part of a troubling posture by Saudi officials to put themselves out of reach of U.S. law. "The PIF cannot have it both ways," said Blumenthal. "If it wants to engage with the U.S. commercially, it must be subject to U.S. law and oversight."
"It is far from clear whether the PIF will comply with the subpoena," the Guardian noted, adding that "the fund has in the past described itself in contradictory terms."
At face value, the Sept. 13 Senate hearing was meant to focus on the PIF's proposed merger with the PGA. Instead, it focused on Riyadh's abuses alongside its role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and "fundamental objections to attempts by the oil-rich nation to take over assets of national interest."
The Connecticut senator and PSI chairman is one of the biggest critics of Saudi Arabia in the upper house of Congress. He pointed to PIF's ownership of Sky Prime Aviation, a company whose jets were used to transport the killers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi from Saudi Arabia to Turkey. The Washington Post columnist was lured to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, where he was murdered by a group of 15 operatives in October 2018.
Blumenthal also pointed to the PIF's role in financing the development of the desert city Neom, which is a critical element of bin Salman's Vision 2030 economic plan. The proposal sought to diversify Saudi Arabia's wealth away from oil. However, members of the Huwaitat tribe opposing the project have been sentenced to death by the Saudi government. (Related: Saudi Arabia to build futuristic oasis of Neom in a bid to move beyond oil.)
Expert witnesses also testified before the PSI, describing the sovereign wealth fund as "inextricably intertwined" with Riyadh and bin Salman himself. Joey Shea, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, told senators that the crown prince and prime minister wields "unilateral decision-making" over the PIF, with little transparency or accountability.
"Saudi Arabia's use of foreign or sovereign wealth fund resources to attempt to gain influence in the U.S. should provoke us all," said Blumenthal. " Under bin Salman, Saudi Arabia remains a brutal regime, utterly resistant to criticism, devoid of any right of free speech. The PIF has been implicated in some of Saudi Arabia’s most abhorrent atrocities."
The Guardian also noted that the Sept. 13 hearing marked a rare instance where Republicans and Democrats are on the same page with regard to a certain issue. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), ranking member on the PSI, centered his questions on Riyadh's role in 9/11.
"This inquiry started with an event that interested me – the PGA trying to come to an agreement with the PIF," he said. "But it is certainly expanding well beyond that."
According to Johnson, he believes Blumenthal has "higher goals" in pursuing an investigation into Saudi Arabia's PIF. The Wisconsin senator added: "It'll be interesting to see where this progresses."
Watch Gabor "Gabe" Zolna talking about Saudi Arabia's denial that it had a role in 9/11 below.
This video is from the zolnareport.com channel on Brighteon.com.